Senior Pastors AND Missionaries: Unique stresses Unique needs

In a few weeks I’ll be transitioning my church in Phoenix over to a younger man that in many ways is a better fit for the neighborhood where our church building sits.  My wife and I will then relocate to the San Diego area which will make it possible for me to be nearby my mom and dad as my dad’s health is failing fast.  We will also be living near our two daughters and 3 of our grandchildren, which is really the icing on the cake of Grace that God is serving us once yet again.

Ministry-wise, I’ll be rejoining Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators full-time and serving as the Director of Church Relations and Missionary Care.  Although I’ve been consistently involved in pastoral-type care of missionaries and encouraging and training church leaders to care for their missionaries since my return from the mission field in 1993, having the opportunity to concentrate on doing so in a full time capacity is extremely exciting.  And needless to say, the machinery of my mind has been humming at warp speed as I think and pray about the needs and the possibilities that are ahead.

With that as a backdrop and at the risk of being misunderstood, I’d like to use the following questions and a few observations to provoke everyone, but ESPECIALLY Senior Pastors regarding ministry to missionaries:

Why do “Senior Pastors” conferences exist?

Why does the “Senior Pastor List Server” exist?

Why do a large percentage of Senior Pastors have as board members of their local church, Senior Pastors that are pastoring in other cities or even in other states?

Why, when a Senior Pastor needs wisdom and seeks out counsel regarding an aspect of leadership or a major challenge within their church, does he usually make a call to someone else who is now or has been a Senior Pastor at some time in the past?

Why does a Senior Pastor usually let loose with a little chuckle and a grin when one of his Assistant Pastors has filled in for him during the week and on a Sunday morning, and then says that he “knows what it’s like to be a Senior Pastor now”?

Obviously, the underlying answer to all of the above questions is that being a Senior Pastor is a unique calling that brings with it unique challenges and stresses that it’s hard for someone who hasn’t been a Senior Pastor to understand or relate to.  No Senior Pastor that I’m aware of is ashamed of being convinced of that in any way, nor should they be.

And even though we’re open to God using other brothers and sisters to speak into many areas of our lives, when it comes to ministry issues or family issues that are tightly connected to ministry, we know that usually only someone else who is or has been a Senior Pastor will really be able to grasp what we are dealing with and perhaps give us some good Godly counsel.

If the questions and observations that I’ve written above have any credence, (and I believe they do), then I believe what I’m about to write is worthy of at least some consideration.  Here then, are a few more questions:

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about a person receiving and sharing the vision God has given them to represent Him in a different country to people of a different language and with radically different culture?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about having to trust that God will provide the money to do that through churches or brothers and sisters in Jesus that you may or may not have relationship with?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about liquidating pretty much every one of your belongings in order to fulfill the vision that God has given you?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about disconnecting yourself, your wife, and your children from anything or anyone that is familiar and then resettling them in a foreign country?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about the reality that once you begin living in this other country that if you or your family members need things like medical care or dental care, it is difficult to obtain and is probably of a different quality than what you’ve had access to in the U.S.?

And finally….

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about learning to live in a completely new culture and environment and learning a new language at the same time your trying to help your family adjust AND engaging in the “ministry” that you’re convinced God called you to?

Here’s where I’m going with this:

If we can justify specialized ministry for ourselves as Senior Pastors and encourage and even make it possible for other Senior Pastors to do the same, then might it not also be possible that missionaries also deserve some type of specialized ministry and that we should encourage and make it possible for them to obtain it, especially if they are members of our church that we have commissioned and sent to the mission field?

Having been both a missionary AND a Senior Pastor at the same time overseas, and a Senior Pastor of two different churches in the U.S., I can tell you by experience that the unique challenges and stresses of being a Senior Pastor in the U.S., as real as they are, do not compare with the unique challenges and stresses of living and ministering in a cross-cultural environment outside of the U.S!

If you’re tracking with what I’m saying, (and even if you’re not), and especially if you’re a Senior Pastor, here are a few things you might consider doing:

1.  Begin viewing the missionaries you know with the same level of regard for their unique situation as you do your own unique situation as a Senior Pastor.

2.  Increase your personal inventory of understanding of what missionaries experience by doing some specific reading about the subject and pray about having your church leadership do the same.

3.  Whenever possible, set up a meeting with someone who has lived on the foreign mission field and ask them to share with you the unique challenges and stresses they faced or are facing.

4.  Encourage, and possibly even pay for your missionaries or other missionaries you know to attend missions conferences.

5.  Even more importantly, encourage or pay for a missionary to attend one of the many specialized missionary retreats that take place in various parts of our country and around the world.

I could go on and on with things to consider but I’ll leave it alone for now.

The bottom-line is that if we unashamedly recognize the unique challenges and stresses involved with being a Senior Pastor and we seize what’s available to assist and encourage ourselves, shouldn’t we seriously consider encouraging and maybe even empowering missionaries to do the same?

13 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Good post, Jeff. I think that sometimes senior pastor’s think they are a breed apart and we are not. Others bleed for the ministry as much as we do. Others have the same weight, and possibly more, as we do. I think, no, I know, that we gripe more than we ought. Thanks for the reminder that there are others that bear the same weight (and more). I might even hazard to say that those who work for us bear a unique weight. I would rather work 70 hours a week with me at the helm than 40 hours a week for someone else. As pastors, we have a wide flexibility with our time that we don’t allow others.

    Reply
    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      Tim,

      I love your ability to view things objectively and articulate them so clearly. What you “hazared” to say was right on and actually, the way we some times lead, we might be a “hazard” to those who work for us with the weight we even inadvertenly put on them 🙂

      Your last sentence should be meditated on by all Senior Pastors…

      Reply
  2. Chuck Musselwhite
    Chuck Musselwhite says:

    Jeff,

    We are so excited for you! That is how I first met you. Shepherds Staff is such a great org and having you there will make it exponentially better. I hope that Calvary Church Planting Network can partner with you to see the mission of Calvary Chapel advanced.

    Reply
    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Chuck. And by the way, I LOVE your post from yesterday and what you’re doing to build community within your fellowship. It really doesn’t come natural to our culture at large and certainly not to CC culture to intenionally pursue community and make the changes necessary to give community an opportunity to emerge.

      Reply
  3. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    I echo Chuck. I’m excited for you. And we definitely need more support for missionaries/planters/small “a” apostles. Not only is missionary work cross-culturally uniquely challenging as opposed to pastoring an existing church, but missionary planting at home is uniquely challenging as opposed to pastoring an existing church. Serving in any of these roles is NOT more dignifying than serving in the others. But its true the challenges are unique. I’ve heard some missionaries say its harder to serve God well in prosperous nations with all their temptation to get lazy and join in the status quo. As an experienced pastor at home and abroad, what do you think?

    Reply
  4. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Kellen,

    The temptation to “get lazy and join in the status quo” is definitely more intense when a person is serving in a properous nation. That certainly can present a unique challenge and create some stress. BUT, that’s in a whole different category than the stress of being tempted by those things AND trying to learn to live in a different country, in the midst of a radically different culture and knowing that without learning a new language you can’t really connect at a deep level or make God’s truth relevant to those that you are serving.

    From what I know about the work God has called you to there in Utah, you’ve definitely experienced the challenges of relocating and living in the midst of people who are somewhat culturally different than you and your family. And there is a certain level of respect/honor that should be given to you for your willingness to do so, (even though you don’t seek that respect/honor and you do what you do regardless of whether it is extended to you).

    But imagine all of the challenges you’ve faced compounded by this: Your relocation with your family was to a different country–where no one outside the front door of your house speaks your language, (or if they do, it isn’t their heart language and they are no where near fluent in your language), and where the very house you live in and the way of living life is different than anything you’ve ever been exposed to. Couple that with having to learn a whole new way of accessing health and dental care, education for you kids, transportation and so forth, and you begin to get an idea of what missionaries serving outside the U.S. may be going through. To me, there is a level of respect/honor that comes uniquely with the willingness to obey that call.

    As a former soldier, I am totally blessed by the respect/honor that is being given these days to our military. Yes, those that serve are just common folks, no different than any other American at the core. But, they have voluntarily chosen to be disconnected from the freedom of life that every other American enjoys and now live under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And, they have chosen to obey the commander in chief and do what he has determined is best for the interests of the country. He may decide that they need to live thousands of miles from where they’d prefer to. He may decide that they need to risk their very life for a cause larger than their own personal interests…and so forth.

    Most of us would agree that trying to make the case that our jobs, regardless of what the job is, is very similar to someone who serves in the armed forces, is just silly. IT’S NOT THE SAME. Yes, everyone in the military has a job that they do. But, unlike the military, our jobs can’t order us to leave our families on a few hours notice and then keep us away from them or our country for months at a time. They can’t order us to put ourselves in harm’s way or suffer punishment if we don’t. And we won’t face imprisonment if we just quit.

    But the men and women who voluntarily put themselves into that context and then stick to that commitment and the benefit to all that comes from that does deserve a certain level of respect/honor that you wouldn’t impart to someone that has a job that just has some similarities.

    So, although we never want to diminish the value of what anyone does, we should always desire to give respect/honor to those who have chosen to voluntarily live in a way that few others would actually choose.

    Big subject and one that I’ll be writing more about.

    Reply
  5. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Thank you, Jeff. Piercing questions, all of them. Honest questions, deserving of the attention you asked for.

    Here’s my conclusion: I must not allow spiritual myopia to dictate my thinking (or lack thereof) about others in ministry.

    Also, if I’m going to be part of sending someone out into the field, I’d better have a profound respect for who they are and for what they do. Otherwise, I’ll not move one inch toward empathy re: their situation.

    Reply
  6. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    Great post. In my five years as a senior pastor, this is an area that the Lord has worked in me. I started out thinking of missions as something that is really important (my wife was an MK so there was no way around that) and wanted to get the church involved in very practical ways. Through my journey, I have come to understand that the missionaries we partner with are very much a part of church family. I view myself as their pastor and need to be in their lives to encourage them. About two years ago, the church leadership decided that it was critical to include a travel budget so I could visit with our missionaries in field to encourage them. The response from our missionaries is overwhelming…many missionaries in general only hear from the church when they are being evaluated for continued funding. I strongly believe something is broken with the relationship between the local church and the sent ones…

    Reply

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